Chapter 30 - Looking for Trouble
Mikaen tossed and turned in his bed for hours before he gave up trying to sleep. For the first time since he arrived on Vinta, Mikaen felt like there was something important to be dealt with, an enemy to fight that was bigger than some disgruntled wild animal or a group of local thugs.
All the signs pointed toward something insidious at work: the attempted ambush, the missing people of Muonsol, the dragon drones, and Jyle's odd behavior. Every instinct Mikaen had as a knight screamed that something big was going on, something that needed his personal touch.
Sighing, Mikaen walked out onto the balcony. The view was spectacular; the massive crystalline chronoan tree's limbs and leaves stretched out into the sky above the central hub of the palace, emanating a faint blue light as the moon of Everblue hung high in the sky.
Hearing the sound of someone humming, Mikaen glanced at the balcony of the Shoran tower. He was hoping to see Tirinia, but was surprised to see Teria instead.
She was lying on the rail, apparently quite comfortable despite the fact that a nudge in the right place would send her hurtling down to her death, or in the very least into the pokey branches of a tree.
She stared up at the star-filled sky in silence, her usual crooked grin replaced with a thoughtful expression. The tune she was humming seemed faintly familiar to Mikaen, but he couldn't quite place it.
"Evening." Mikaen called out.
"Evening." She replied, stretching her arms before hopping back onto her balcony. "If you're looking to serenade sis, she already went to bed."
As she headed for the balcony door, Mikaen called out, "I hear you and my mysterious benefactor share some history."
"Yes?" She said, a slight edge to her tone.
"Well, I'm curious. Can you blame me? I didn't even know about Dreamers until I came to Vinta, and now I've got One watching over my shoulder like an angel. I'd like to know more about him."
"I get it, Mikaen, it's just …" Teria sighed. She hopped back onto the railing and let her feet dangle over the edge. "How could he forget me? We were close, closer than any friend I ever had."
"Were you …" Mikaen stopped; he felt awkward about asking about another person's bonding, given the intimacy he had already felt since he had been bonded to Tirinia.
She grinned, no doubt guessing his thoughts. "Bonded? Nah. I was only fifteen when he nearly landed on me, seventeen when he left to make a name for himself. Had he stayed, though, we'd have been married by now."
"If he had beat you in combat, right?"
She let out a slight chuckle. "Don't let the clumsy act fool you. Glen's an awesome hand-to-hand fighter, especially when he's got Headache. Have you ever seen One fight? He would have beaten me easily, and as a three-time winner of the Longshore Melee, I don't say that lightly." She sighed. "The two years we spent together were really something else, Mikaen. I won't lie and say we always got along, but ... we were friends. We both knew we felt more, but it took Sorceress Ackibar to get one of us to admit it."
She leaned forward against the balcony railing and stared up at the sky for a long moment. "For years, I dreamed of him coming back as a hero or as some kinda famous adventurer or something … but not this. Not as a Dreamer, and definitely not without any memory of me. I mean, how does that even happen?"
"You know," Mikaen said, "from what One told me, I don't think he wanted to forget."
"Yeah, well he doesn't remember now, does he?"
"Still," Mikaen persisted, "He really seemed bothered when I spoke to him this morning. He may not remember you like he did, but your feelings still matter to him."
She didn't reply. Mikaen continued, "He said he's getting the memories reintegrated. I don't pretend to really understand what he means, but he obviously still wants to remember you. Maybe there's still a chance that you can get him back."
Teria let out a dejected sigh. "I'm pretty sure he's taken. Maybe you missed it earlier, but his girlfriend gave me a good lump in the head." She sighed, looking downtrodden. "He's gone. I can't help but feel responsible somehow, and that kinda pisses me off."
"Why would you be responsible?" Mikaen asked, genuinely perplexed.
Teria shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe something I did made him not want to remember me."
"Or maybe it had nothing to do with you."
She looked at him questioningly.
"Maybe what he was trying to forget wasn't so much you as something he saw or did during the time you spent together. Maybe forgetting you was really just an accident … collateral damage, as it were."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "So I'm collateral damage, huh? You should try that line on Tirinia some time, stud."
Mikaen flushed. "Okay, that didn't come out right, but you know what I mean."
"Yeah, I guess so." She tapped her feet against a railing post, wondering aloud, "I wonder what he's doing right now? Is he trying to remember? Is he with her?"
Mikaen didn't know how to respond. Fortunately, she didn't seem to expect any response.
Shaking her head, Teria slipped back off the rail again. "Bah. Tirinia's the romantic, not me. I'm going to bed, and I suggest you do the same; I heard Tirinia saying she wanted to spar with you tomorrow. Something about finally having a real challenge."
Shaking her head, she walked back into her room and shut the door behind her.
Mikaen stayed on his balcony for a while. He didn't pretend to understand much of the situation around Teria and One (or Glen, Mikaen supposed), but it seemed out of his hands in any case.
His eyes fell to the garden below. It truly was a wondrous sight, particularly at night; the glowing tree gave off enough light to make out the paved path that wound around the trees, bushes, and vines. It looked so peaceful … so inviting.
"Maybe I'll just go for a little walk." Mikaen said to himself.
He was almost to the door when his gaze fell on his armor, laid out on top of the dresser. There was no reason to put it on, not for a walk in the garden. Nevertheless, he found himself gearing up; Even after months of peace, he still just didn't feel comfortable without his protective gear. Though a bit tight in the shoulders, it still fit him well.
A lift ride and three wrong turns later, Mikaen was walking among the beautiful plant life of the royal gardens. The trees, many of which Mikaen didn't recognize, were lightly trimmed but still allowed to grow out without much restraint. There were several patches of mevos vines; fruit-laden vines lined the path, entangled the bridges, and even grew some length up the crystalline chronoan tree. It reminded him of Homestead, the thought of which made Mikaen think wistfully of his home by the lake.
Mikaen almost missed the oak tree. Partially hidden behind a large cluster of mevos vines, it looked positively clandestine among the more exotic local plant life in the garden.
Smiling, Mikaen laid a hand on its rough bark. "A gift from One, I suppose. Where are you now, my strange friend? Out making more trouble?"
There was no response, though in truth, Mikaen expected none. He sank down into the grass and rested his back against the natural curve of the oak. Staring up into the stars and growing leaves, Mikaen let his mind wander.
He had just started to doze off when the sharp crack of a twig in the direction of the garden path snapped him back to full attention. Silently, he slipped away from the tree and peered out onto the path, his hand wrapping instinctively on the hilt of his sword.
For a few moments, he wondered if he had just imagined the sound; the gentle sway of the plant life in the evening breeze seemed perfectly natural. The longer he watched however, the more he became aware that someone or something was moving across the garden path.
The figure stopped every few moments, vanishing from Mikaen's view only to reappear whenever it began moving again.
Mikaen realized what it was almost instantly; someone was masking themselves with a chameleon enchantment, a typical illusionist trick. He had always been able to spot Jyle sneaking out of Misakren, though exactly why Mikaen was able to see Jyle when no one else could was a mystery. Still, why would Jyle have to sneak around his own palace?
He realized his error almost immediately. The figure was too short to be Jyle. That didn't mean a whole lot; Jyle was quite tall, and the illusionist ability wasn't exactly rare, at least not on Earth.
Then it hit him: It must be Rydiana, he realized, off to see her lover; apparently the Jai Vye delegation had shown up after all. Even if it wasn't her, Mikaen had a keen interest in whoever was sneaking around Muonsol at night.
Mikaen followed the figure, taking great care not to be seen or heard. Even though he had been fully trained as a Shadow, it was not an easy task; he had to move very carefully to avoid making any unintentional noise with the movement of his armor. In addition, the figure stopped every few steps and looked around, presumably watching out for anyone who might be following.
His training as a Knight of the Star had not been in vain, however. The figure never noticed Mikaen's presence. Moving with the patience of a turtle, he followed the figure out of the gardens and through the palace, always careful to duck out of sight whenever the figure would turn.
Several times, especially in the narrow hallways of the palace, he thought the figure had detected him. They would sit in the hallway, sometimes remaining motionless for as long as five minutes before moving again.
After about an hour of this stop-and-go process, the figure reached the door leading to the palace stable. With a final look around, the figure fiddled with the door lock for a moment. The door slid open a few moments later. Mikaen had to move in close to slip through the doorway before the door closed, but the figure didn't notice; it was making a beeline for the livestock elevator in the rear of the stable.
As the lift doors opened, Mikaen rushed to follow the figure inside when a sudden spasm of pain shot through his back.
I don't know if I can properly convey the pain involved in the Gineros phase of a sentient's life; a sentient's wings are formed inside a protective cocoon-like layer of skin that has been building up for years, usually without the sentient's notice. As the time draws near, the protective layer begins to thin, giving the wings more room to stretch and twist. This is not a pleasant experience, and a lesser sentients than Mikaen might very well have passed out from the pain.
However, it was not yet the time for his wings to emerge. The pain gradually receded as his wings settled.
To his surprise, a small set of arms helped him stand. "Thanks." he breathed, steadying himself against the side of a nearby stall.
Mikaen turned his gaze sharply toward the speaker. "Jeronem? What are you doing here?"
Jeronem picked up his staff and let it rest across his shoulders. "Well, I was getting something to drink when I saw you slinking through the corridors, so I decided to see what was going on. What were you doing anyway? It looked like you were following someone."
"I was. I think it might have been Rydiana; she was using an illusion to cloak her presence." Mikaen looked around the room, but he knew there was no point; whoever it was had probably reached the forest floor already. "She's probably long gone now, even if she didn't hear me when I had my little Gineros attack."
"We should go after them, right?" Jeronem glanced at the elevator doors. "I mean, with everyone disappearing and all, they're in danger."
"Good point. Maybe we should …" Mikaen glared at Jeronem. "Wait, how do you know about that?"
Flustered, Jeronem waved Mikaen off. "What's it matter? You and Tirinia tracked all the missing people to the area near Yuna Lake."
"You were spying on us?"
Jeronem pouted. "Well, it's not like you ever bothered to fill me in!"
"You've been busy with all your schoolwork! I haven't even seen you since …" Mikaen pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a sigh. "You know what? We can talk about this later. We need to get moving."
"So we're following Rydiana?"
"Yes, we're going to follow Rydiana. I've been wanting to check out the area around Yuna Lake anyway."
Beaming, Jeronem bounded into the lift the moment the doors opened. Mikaen followed a moment later, muttering, "Kathryn's gonna kill me when she finds out about this."
As the elevator descended to the forest floor, Jeronem took a sidelong glance at his friend. "Are you feeling okay?"
"You mean the Gineros?" Mikaen rubbed his back experimentally to no effect. "Yeah, pain's gone now."
Jeronem still looked concerned. "You think it's okay to go out like this?"
Mikaen grinned at Jeronem. "Don't worry about me. Just make sure you can keep up."